In six more days, I will be fully vaccinated – two Pfizer vaccine shots +2 weeks of quarantine. While I’m excited about getting to the dentist and eye doctor, I am not going back to any in-person gatherings. We are still in the midst of pandemic and I, as “a person with quote an underlying health condition” feel vulnerable.

Neuropsychologist Richard Davidson identifies “connection” as one of his four pillars of well-being. How do I – and other people dealing with health challenges – cultivate connection in these distanced times?

In some ways, pandemic culture has worked for people like me. Being able to attend classes and interest groups via zoom uses less physical energy. (It also emits fewer greenhouse gases, which increases my mental energy. I can let go of any fueled-by-fossils driving guilt.) I feel connected to people during a zoom meeting, but I miss being together in the same physical space. Someday, that will be safe again. I predict, though, that the new normal will be more of a hybrid model. We’ll have some zoom connections and some in-person ones.

If I choose to make connection a priority, it helps to schedule time for it in my calendar. I’ve added a slot on Friday afternoons for me to send an email message or make a phone call. My goals will be to be honest about how and what I am feeling and doing, inquire about, and listen deeply to what the other person is thinking or doing, tell them how special they are and thank them for being in my life. I know from experience how contacts like this improve my mental health. Introvert that I am, I forget to make them.

Many of my zoom calls include a “check in time” and I realized recently that I’m not using that time well. I say things like “I’m continuing to continue” or “nothing new.” These are accurate, but not informative or vulnerable. I want to start doing a little mental preparation so I can offer a more meaningful response.

A friend tells me that when he feels distant from his wife, he tells her about how wonderful she is. “At first, it felt fake,” he confesses, “but after a while, it increased my love for her and our closeness.” I can include compliments and praise in my Friday connections.

I can use my imagination to increase my sense of connection. Most mornings, I practice lovingkindness meditation, picturing people in my life in my mind and wishing them well.

While the pandemic may affect the methods we use to connect with each other, our need to express our love for each other and feel like we belong hasn’t changed. Even while maintaining physical distance, we can cultivate emotional closeness. With a combination of intention, vulnerability, honesty, attention, praise, and encouragement, we can strengthen our relationships.